I went to the Japan-Mexico WBC game in Anaheim last night. Japan won, 6-1, meaning Mexico is now eliminated.* I went into the game with no rooting interest. I like the Mexican team (and Mexico), so I was leaning their way. But I also felt Japan deserved not to be eliminated after being robbed by an (American) umpire in the previous game against the USA. Having seen Japan play, I am now quite persuaded by what I saw that this team is something special. It has few major-leaguers, and of course even those that it has were previous stars in their own country’s leagues before moving across the Pacific (e.g. Ichiro Suzuki and Akinori Otsuka). And, of course, you have to like their manager, Sadaharu Oh, the all-time world home-run king.
Japan had a couple of misplays in the game, but in general, they play a very solidly executed brand of baseball that is fun to watch. I do wish they would get over their infatuation with the sacrifice bunt, however. Even Ichiro sacrificed. Enough of that already! In one case, they actually bunted into a double play, which was sort of nice to see, in a way–especially given that the player who did it was Hitoshi Tamura, a power hitter. On the other hand, the first two runs of the game were set up in textbook fashion by a sacrifice (Tamura again, but successful this time) with runners at first and second, which was followed immediately by a single that scored both runners. Moments later, Japan turned to big ball, with catcher Tomoya Satozaki blasting one over the high fence in right-center field.
The Japanese starting pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, was not dominant, but had the Mexican hitters off balance and hitting lots of lazy flies to the outfield. He is now 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in the Classic. He has one of those very distinctive, deliberate, and hesitating deliveries, as do many Japanese pitchers. About Matsuzaka, the Daily Yomiuri says:
Famous for his stamina and fastball that made him a household name at Yokohama High School, Matsuzaka said Japan’s 6-1 victory had the same do-or-die feel that permeates Japan’s most famous high school tournament. […]
In 1998, Matsuzaka mesmerized Japan as an 18-year-old, leading his school to three national high school titles that year.
Mexico played well, other than Esteban Loaiza getting in trouble in the fourth, when Japan scored its first four runs. Right fielder Mario Gonzalez made a wonderful running catch in the gap and San Diegan and new Padre Adrian Gonzalez (the only player on either roster not born in the country he was playing for) made a couple of nice stops at first base. Also good plays by Jorge CantÃº and Vinny Castilla.
All in all, while it was not the close game I was hoping for, it was a good one. And while the crowd was disappointingly small, the atmosphere was festive and the multilingual announcements were neat to hear.
The WBC has been excellent!
*CORRECTION: Mexico is hanging by a thread, but is not necessarily eliminated. If Korea beats and scores a lot of runs against Japan, and then Mexico beats USA, scoring a lot and not allowing many runs, Mexico could still have the lowest runs allowed among three 1-2 teams. I did not do all the calculations to figure out just how many runs here and there it would take, because it is all pretty unlikely (and complex!). But, technically, Mexico has not been eliminated as of now (i.e. the midpoint of the Korea-Japan game).